What kind of castnet do I need? The answer to this question is not as easy as it sounds. Numerous factors come into play when trying to decide on a cast net. The most important being what is the primary bait you want to catch in the net. For your time to be spent wisely, you need at least one net for each type of baitfish. Other factors that come into play are the clarity of the water, depth of the water, the speed of the baitfish, and various other factors.
Once you have decided on the type of baitfish you want to catch you can decide on the length of net, weight of the net, and mesh size. To keep things simple I am going to discuss the nets needed on Lake Lanier. The first net most individuals purchase is a net for threadfin shad. Threads are the easiest to catch most of the time being that they are the slowest swimmers. Goes back to the predator prey principle. The prey are always slower than the predator. Threads are normally fairly small so you will need a smaller mesh net. For one to two inch threads you need a ¼ inch mesh net with a pound of lead per foot or more. Weight of the net is not as important for threads as it is for other types of bait. You can get away with a 3/8 inch mesh but most of the smaller threads will go through the net. In the cold winter months, the tiny threads can sometimes be the best bait. The threads are most often caught in the very back of the creeks in ten feet of water or less. Being that the threads are normally shallow and slow swimmers, you can get away with a smaller radius net. At times I have seen individuals be successful with a five ft radius net for threads. However, if you want to be successful even when the threads pull out to fifteen to twenty feet of water purchase an eight-foot radius net or even a ten-foot radius net. Personally, I never purchase a net under a ten-foot radius. The one net you do not want to use in an area full of threads is a ½ inch mesh net. The baits will gill all throughout the net and the net will look like a live Christmas tree. The next net is for blueback herring that established themselves in the lake in the late 1990s. A ten-foot radius 3/8 inch mesh with a pound and a half of lead per foot is the ideal net for bluebacks if you are pursuing them in the daylight hours in the back of a creek in the spring or fall. During the summer months the herring will be out in the deep open water and only be obtainable at night. Herring are very susceptible to lights at night. Herring are much faster swimmers so the pound and a half of lead per foot is more important than it is for threads. The same goes for the radius of the net. Be sure to purchase a ten foot radius net. Te only time you can use a smaller is net is at night under light or the rare times in the spring when the herring are spawning up the creeks in two feet of water or less. Don’t forget herring are also able to be caught on a Sabiki rig. A Sabiki rig is a rig with multiple small gold hooks. This can be a lot of fun for the kids.
The next net is for gizzard shad. Gizzard shad can be very hard to catch at times, but sometimes the reward is well worth it. I would day to say, more trophy stripers are caught on gizzard shad than any other bait. Basically two nets are needed for gizzard shad. Gizzards can grow in excess of twelve inches so it depends on what size gizzards you need to catch fish. Starting with the smaller gizzards under six inches, you will need a 5/8 inch mesh net with an eight-foot radius or more. As mentioned earlier, go ahead and purchase a ten-foot radius net when you can for the times when the shad are out in deeper water or the water is too clear from a lack of rain. The last net you will need is a ten-foot radius or more net with a ¾ inch mesh or a one inch mesh. This is the net you will need for the large gizzards. You will get lucky at times in muddy water and catch a few with a smaller net but to consistently catch the “big gizzies” you need the big net with lots of lead. Same as the threads, they prefer the back of the creeks. Many times when the surface is calm you can see them “flipping” on the surface. Flipping the term used to describe the gizzards tendency to come to the surface and slightly flick the surface with their tail. If you can throw on a “flip” you can sometimes land a net full. However, this is just if you get lucky. Many times a person wanting to fish with gizzards will spend as much time catching bait as you will fishing. Not to mention your boat becoming a nasty mess with twigs and mud in every crevice in your boat.
Now that you know which net to buy, we need to discuss a few simple things about caring for the net. First of all, take the net out of the bucket and stretch it out in a clean level area and let it sit at least overnight. Even before this, some people prefer to get a five gallon bucket , fill it halfway with water, add a cup full of liquid fabric softener, and let it sit the first night. The fabric softener helps soften the net and it will open a little bit better. It will not harm the net. Leaving the net out in the bright sunlight is the most harmful event that can happen to the net. After the net is soft, be sure to practice throwing the net in the yard. The net is much heavier when it is wet. Several good videos are on-line to learn how to throw a net.